In the guise of a space Marine, I slowly wander through a dark and destroyed base on Mars, jumping as demonic voices wail from behind doors and walls. It's a legitimately scary situation, not unlike that of a well-made horror movie, and it's as realistic as something out of my worst nightmares. There's just one difference: This is the DOOM 3 video game I'm describing, not a movie. I'm interacting with its ghastly environment on my PC, not vegging out on the couch or in a movie theater. This somehow makes the experience even scarier, because any movement on my part can trigger a horrific attack from the monsters that populate the base. I haven't jumped this much, literally, since the first DOOM came out over a decade ago. Not coincidentally, I have the same feeling about the latest rendition of this title as I did about the original: As technically impressive as DOOM 3 is, I can't help but think that there's something horribly wrong with enjoying this thing so much.

The problem, of course, is the violence. DOOM 3 is epically violent, as you might expect from a first-person shooter. However, unlike similar titles that came before—for example, Half-Life, Quake III Arena, or Unreal Tournament 2004—the action in DOOM 3 is so stunningly realistic and believable that your immersion is much more total, and that gives the violence much greater impact. You feel every creaky floorboard, every swinging light in a darkened room, every explosion of sudden activity deep down, and if you're trigger-happy—and let's face it, in the situations DOOM 3 puts you in, you will be—you'll have plenty of opportunity to dish out as much pain as you receive. Demons, monsters, and zombified ex-Marines and scientists lurch at you from the dark and explode in a riveting display of blood and guts that cover the walls and floors in realistic patterns. You can see the evidence of past ravages as well, and sometimes you simply need to follow an all-too-realistic trail of blood to find the next clue. But don't spend too much time crouching down in the dark: Creatures are watching you. And they're waiting for you to turn your back to them.

My wife's opinion notwithstanding, I'm a reasonably mature adult. Although the R-rated violence of DOOM 3—excuse me, it's rated M for Mature in video game speak—is among the most gruesome I've seen in any game title, I can pretty much handle it, assuming most of the lights are on. What I'm increasingly concerned about these days is the effect that a game such as this will have on children. I find it hard to believe that most of the millions of already-sold copies of DOOM 3 are in the hands of adults. Many clueless parents would probably never even realize how realistic this game is or how wrong it would be to allow a kid to play it. And, of course, DOOM 3 is coming out on the Microsoft Xbox system soon, as well.

And DOOM 3 isn't a title I can play around my own children. Like most children, my 6-year-old son Mark is a huge fan of video games, and he actually enjoys watching me play certain games on the computer. Whereas the comparatively cartoonish nature of a game like Unreal Tournament 2004 can be fairly easily explained away as a virtual sporting event, the gruesome graphics and scenarios of DOOM 3 would cause too many unwanted questions. But that's what makes DOOM 3 even more like gaming pornography in my mind: It's something to be hidden and not brought out in front of the family. I actually wait until everyone's asleep to play this game. I feel a bit weird about that.

In the end, I don't condemn id Software, the makers of DOOM 3, for making the game they wanted to make. Certainly, it has a rich storyline, amazingly developed interactions with non-player characters and the environment, and plenty of gut-wrenching action. And I know enough about the business to know that other companies will license the DOOM 3 technology and create their own games, many of which will be far sunnier and more kid-friendly than id Software's trend-setting title. But as much as I like DOOM 3—I've already completed the game and am now replaying it, more slowly, as if to savor it, in order to make sure I haven't missed anything—I can't shake the feeling that admitting I like something like this is tantamount to admitting that there's something horribly wrong with me.

But I'll get over it. I've got work to do. On Mars.